What options the new President of Ukraine has?

In eve of the Maidan uprising last February Petro Poroshenko, then Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Co-Chairman of the Committee on Ukraine/EU Parliamentary Cooperation, met with Catherine Ashton High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, who traveled to Kiev where she paid tribute to the victims at the symbolic place of the protest movement EuroMaidan. (EC Audiovisual Services 24/02/2014).

In eve of the Maidan uprising last February Petro Poroshenko, then Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Co-Chairman of the Committee on Ukraine/EU Parliamentary Cooperation, met with Catherine Ashton High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, who travelled to Kiev where she paid tribute to the victims at the symbolic place of the protest movement EuroMaidan. (EC Audiovisual Services 24/02/2014).

Petro Poroshenko, the new Ukrainian President elect, is one of the wealthiest men of his country, but he is not an oligarch in the sense that he hasn’t made his fortune by getting government contracts and concessions. He actually is the only exception to the rule, that all business tycoons of this badly governed state, have made their fortunes by colluding with the political elite to ruthlessly exploit the country’s wealth. In many cases the politicians themselves, like the ousted ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have immensely and quite openly enriched themselves while in power.

Poroshenko’s fortune in the candy, chocolate and agricultural sectors are not related to government contracts, because his are market led activities. The government cannot convince the Ukrainian consumers to choose his products. That’s why he has not been related to the corrupt political factions, which governed the country during the last fifteen years. His democratic credentials are won during the ‘Orange Revolution’ but he didn’t redeem them for public money as Tymoshenko and others did. Poroshenko has been always in the opposition and participated in the Maidan uprising, but withdrew from the first line of events, when the extreme right wing ‘regiments’ took over the place.

Who backs Poroshenko?

That’s why last Sunday this man won the presidential election in the first round and understandably represents the last chance of Ukraine to remain in one piece. There is every indication that the majority of people consider him as Ukraine’s best chance to return to some kind of normality and for once try to arrest corruption, not nurture it. Seemingly the EU and Germany will back his efforts to pacify the east by firstly accepting those regions as equal interloqutors and secondly by promissing them some kind of autonomy. At the point things have arrived there is no other way out from the civil war.

In last Sunday’s election fight Poroshenko’s adversary was Jylia Tymoshenko, a former Prime Minister, but she didn’t really contest the election. It was clear from the very beginning that Tymoshenko couldn’t beat him. She participated in the contest just to acquire a good contact and relations with her adversary. She very easily and willingly acknowledged defeat. She even appeared with him on Sunday night to celebrate his victory (!) without even the official results being made public. In the future, Poroshenko’s relations with the old corrupt political nomenclature of Ukraine will be tested over his relations with Timoshenko.

Undoubtedly, the new President has a lot of problems, the most important of which are to keep the country united and govern it in almost complete absence of a state administrative machine, let alone a reliable chain of command in all government functions. However, by being the only hope for a reconciliation between the east and the west of the country, he has the EU and the US backing. Over and above, he has repeatedly expressed his decision to side with the European Union, and he explained his victory by the willingness of the majority of the people to connect Ukraine with the West.

Towards a decentralized Ukraine

However, he seems to understand that he cannot change the pro-Russian feelings of a large part of the people in the eastern parts of Ukraine. He also recognizes that the eastern provinces cannot accept the autocracy of the right wing ‘regiments’ of the Maidan, which have become so far an absolute authority. To overcome those hurdles, analysts say that Poroshenko will work towards a solution of decentralized reform in Ukraine, in order to win back the hearts of the populations in the east. In reality there is no other way to keep the country united.

The latest fighting in Donetsk airport yesterday is actually a warning to Poroshenko. Only a few hours after the results of the Presidential election were made known, pro-Russian gunmen attacked the Ukrainian army guarding the main airfield in the region. The gun men had previously paraded in the center of the city in front of a cheering crowd of thousands of people. The new President knows that it will be very difficult to keep the country united if the organized separatist gunmen in the east maintain their close references to the local society. The only way to neutralize the armed militias and deprive them from their connections with the local people, is to offer some form of autonomy for the eastern provinces from Kiev.

Russia’s tactics

So far the Russian decision makers, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have stated that they will cooperate with Poroshenko and they have just stopped short of recognizing him as representing the new legitimate political authority in Ukraine. Lavrov explained that Russia is ready to sit down with the new Ukrainian President to settle their differences, but Moscow refuses to accept the West, the EU and the US, on the same table as Poroshenko seems to want.

In any case, Poroshenko has the backing of the West, the tolerance of Russia, and represents the only hope of the Ukrainian people to keep the country in one piece. If this hope is strong enough to bridge the gap the civil confrontation has dug, it remains to be seen.

 

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